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Most Effective Home Improvements for Home Sellers

I'm pitching a listing tomorrow, and in order to give the seller an idea of what I do, I sent him some notes about my year. Business has been lousy; in a market where sales volume dropped 70 percent this spring, I've only managed to sell about half my listings.

The one thing the nonsellers all had in common? Carpet.

Hatred of wall-to-wall carpet may be a very Manhattan-specific thing; here, the fashion is for exposed hardwood floors dotted with scatter rugs. But it's good to know what works, and what doesn't.

To that end, HomeGain.com, a real estate web site, surveyed hundreds of Realtors to see what improvements home sellers should make in order to maximize price.

The top five are:

  1. Clean and de-clutter.
  2. Home staging.
  3. Lighten and brighten.
  4. Landscape front/back.
  5. Repair plumbing.
All of these improvements were recommended by more than 80 percent of Realtors surveyed. What's more, the agents surveyed said that each of these changes would lift a property's value by at least $1,000. That provides a great rate of return, considering that none of them should cost more than a few hundred dollars to implement.

For those of you who are wondering, "yes, but what does 'clean and de-clutter' mean?' I would say that your agent can be a pretty good guide as to what needs to be done. In general, though, you want the entryway of a home to look sparse, the closets (especially the front and the master bedroom) to look as organized as if they were pictures in a closet catalog, and for your house to have no smell whatsoever (have a friend come over as a sniffer, because if you have a pet, or smoke, or are even accustomed to your old house's mustiness, you're not going to be aware of it).

If you want to make yourself really feel better, click for some "before-and-after" shots from the Style Network's "Clean House" TV show.

"Home staging" is a specific discipline, and it involves organizing collections, de-personalizing a house (maybe the buyer can't see themselves in your home if they're looking at ten of your wedding photos), and organizing furniture to maximize flow. "Lightening and brightening" -- well, I have sellers now who have a north-facing room that the kids are in a lot, and it's painted a lovely sage green, but so many buyers complain that it's dark that I gave the sellers a choice of white, off-white, or butter yellow.